Woman Survives 6 days Without Lungs

Melissa Benoit had a terminal lung infection and she waited an unprecedented 6 days without lungs whilst waiting for a transplant.

Born with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease resulting in increased production of thick, sticky sputum, Melissa already had a compromised respiratory system. A bout with influenza left her fighting for her life. Sedated and ventilated the outlook was bleak and her only hope of surviving was to have a transplant.

She was put on extracorporeal life support but she kept deteriorating and her condition eventually progressed to multi-organ failure and something radical needed to happen to treat the infection. In April, a team of 13 operating staff, including 3 surgeons, over the course of 9 hours, removed both of her lungs and usually at this stage the new lungs are then transplanted into the body.

This is not what happened to Melissa. She was placed on ECMO for 6 days until donor lungs were available. Incredibly, even without lungs in her body, her condition stabilised and they were able to stop all vasoactive support before leaving the operating room. Her condition steadily improved and after an uneventful transplantation the ECMO was weaned however the critical illness left her muscles unable to even support her head and thanks to physiotherapy she has now started to walk again.

Read about the surgery in more detail here.

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